Archive for Hall of Fame

A Dive into Hall of Fame Ballot Trends

Editor’s Note: As we approach the January 22 Hall of Fame announcement, we’ll be featuring a few pieces from Anthony Calamis and Adam Dore, members of Ryan Thibodaux’s excellent team that tracks public Hall of Fame ballot. This is the second such piece. Be sure to check out the ballot tracker, which is an indispensable tool for any Hall of Fame enthusiast.

To get the obvious point out of the way, the Cooperstown stage is going to be crowded at this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 21. All signs point to the trio of Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, and Edgar Martinez earning induction and joining Lee Smith and Harold Baines — both of whom were elected to the Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Committee this past December — in the 2019 Hall of Fame class. It is also possible that Mike Mussina will join them as well.

This year’s class will, in all likelihood, have the unique distinction of being the first class ever comprised of two or more first-ballot selections (Rivera and Halladay) to go along with one candidate (Martinez) who received at least 75% of the vote in his final year of eligibility. On two previous occasions, the BBWAA selected one first-timer and one other inductee whose eligibility window was set to expire: the 2017 induction class featured Ivan Rodriguez (first year on ballot, 76.0%) and Tim Raines (10th year, 86.0%), while the Class of 2009 consisted of Rickey Henderson (first year, 94.8%) and Jim Rice (15th year, 76.4%).

As of Tuesday morning, we have published 177 ballots in our Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker, and it is clear that Fred McGriff and Larry Walker have gained the most ground of any of the returning candidates since the last voting cycle. McGriff has picked up 34 votes so far from writers who did not include him on their ballots last year – against just two drops – while Walker has seen a net gain of 37 new votes as of this writing. McGriff is in his 10th and final year of BBWAA eligibility and will not get the call from Cooperstown next week. Walker, in his penultimate year on the ballot, had a case that appeared dead in the water, garnering just 21.9% of the vote in 2017, his seventh year on the ballot. Heck, his candidacy was probably written off by almost everyone, even with a 12.1% jump in 2018.

Net Gained Vote Leaderboard, 2009-Present
Rank Year Candidate Net +/-
(Public Ballots)
1 2018 Vladimir Guerrero +56
2 2016 Edgar Martinez +51
3 2017 Edgar Martinez +48
4 2018 Larry Walker +40
T5 2016 Alan Trammell* +39
T5 2016 Mike Mussina +39
T7 2019 Larry Walker +37
T7 2018 Edgar Martinez +37
T7 2017 Tim Raines* +37
10 2017 Jeff Bagwell +33
T11 2019 Fred McGriff* +32
T11 2016 Jeff Bagwell +32
T13 2018 Mike Mussina +31
T13 2016 Tim Raines +31
T13 2016 Curt Schilling +31
T16 2017 Barry Bonds +27
T16 2017 Roger Clemens +27
T18 2017 Mike Mussina +26
T18 2017 Trevor Hoffman +26
20 2016 Mike Piazza +23
*Final Chance on Ballot
Elected by BBWAA
SOURCE: Ryan Thibodaux

Just how far can Walker’s surge take him? Well, his current showing of 66.7% through 177 public and anonymous ballots is sure to falter, as ballots revealed early have historically been more favorable toward the vast majority of candidates than those revealed later or kept private. In order to determine the likelihood of the Canadian former slugger finishing with a portion of the vote high enough to set him up for a real possibility of 2020 enshrinement, I investigated how Walker fared on ballots of varying sizes last year.

Since 2017, I have kept a public spreadsheet detailing the trends in Hall of Fame ballots of varying vote quantities, and how each candidate fares when ballots are broken into five different size groups. The 10-player and 9-player ballots are categorized individually, while 7-8 vote and 5-6 vote ballots make up two separate groups; the remaining ballots, which consist of four or fewer votes, make up the fifth and final category. This sheet, made possible by Ryan Thibodaux’s work, breaks down each of the five size classifications into two additional groups: ballots including both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and ballots that exclude one or both members of that duo.

For the sake of reducing space below, I’ve lumped ballot sizes into two basic groups: 10-player ballots and ballots which have fewer than the maximum 10 names checked.

On ballots with all 10 slots filled:

Ballots With All 10 Slots Filled
Candidate 2019 Pre (’19-’18 Diff) 2018 @177 2018 Pre 2018 Final 2018 Final – Pre Final – @177
Barry Bonds 88.20% 4.90% 85.80% 83.30% 83.20% -0.10% -2.60%
Roger Clemens 89.20% 5.20% 86.80% 84.00% 83.80% -0.20% -3.00%
Vladimir Guerrero —– —– 95.30% 95.10% 95.40% 0.30% 0.10%
Roy Halladay 97.10% —– —– —— —— —— —–
Todd Helton 20.60% —– —– —– —— —— —–
Trevor Hoffman —– —– 82.10% 83.30% 83.80% 0.50% 1.70%
Andruw Jones 13.70% 7.40% 3.80% 6.30% 6.40% 0.10% 2.60%
Chipper Jones —– —– 99.10% 99.30% 99.40% 0.10% 0.30%
Jeff Kent 18.60% 6.10% 10.40% 12.50% 13.90% 1.40% 3.50%
Edgar Martinez 98.00% 12.60% 86.80% 85.40% 86.10% 0.70% -0.70%
Fred McGriff 46.10% 25.30% 16.00% 20.80% 22.00% 1.20% 6.00%
Mike Mussina 93.10% 7.00% 86.80% 86.10% 85.00% -1.10% -1.80%
Andy Pettitte 7.80% —– —– —– —— —— —–
Manny Ramirez 33.30% 3.40% 35.80% 29.90% 31.80% 1.90% -4.00%
Mariano Rivera 100.00% —– —– —– —– —– —–
Scott Rolen 32.40% 15.00% 14.20% 17.40% 16.80% -0.60% 2.60%
Curt Schilling 83.30% 8.30% 78.30% 75.00% 71.70% -3.30% -6.60%
Gary Sheffield 14.70% 2.90% 9.40% 11.80% 13.30% 1.50% 3.90%
Sammy Sosa 14.70% -0.60% 17.90% 15.30% 13.90% -1.40% -4.00%
Jim Thome —– —– 94.30% 95.80% 94.80% -1.00% 0.50%
Omar Vizquel 39.20% 9.30% 27.40% 29.90% 30.10% 0.20% 2.70%
Billy Wagner 19.60% 5.70% 13.20% 13.90% 13.30% -0.60% 0.10%
Larry Walker 82.40% 30.30% 53.80% 52.10% 51.40% -0.70% -2.40%

And ballots on which fewer than 10 names are checked:

Ballots With Fewer Than 10 Slots Filled
Candidate 2019 Pre (’19-’18 Diff) 2018 @177 2018 Pre 2018 Final 2018 Final – Pre Final – @177
Barry Bonds 52.10% 14.20% 36.60% 37.90% 34.70% -3.10% -1.90%
Roger Clemens 52.10% 15.20% 35.20% 36.90% 34.00% -2.90% -1.20%
Vladimir Guerrero —– —– 93.00% 94.20% 93.10% -1.10% 0.10%
Roy Halladay 88.70% —– —– —– —– —– —–
Todd Helton 16.90% —– —– —– —– —– —–
Trevor Hoffman —– —– 71.80% 71.80% 72.90% 1.10% 1.10%
Andruw Jones 1.40% -2.50% 5.60% 3.90% 4.90% 1.00% -0.80%
Chipper Jones —– —– 97.20% 97.10% 96.50% -0.60% -0.70%
Jeff Kent 8.50% -6.10% 11.30% 14.60% 15.30% 0.70% 4.00%
Edgar Martinez 80.30% 14.30% 70.40% 66.00% 64.60% -1.40% -5.80%
Fred McGriff 23.90% 4.50% 18.30% 19.40% 20.80% 1.40% 2.50%
Mike Mussina 64.80% 17.20% 53.50% 47.60% 50.00% 2.40% -3.50%
Andy Pettitte 5.60% —– —– —– —– —– —–
Manny Ramirez 16.90% 5.30% 9.90% 11.70% 11.10% -0.50% 1.30%
Mariano Rivera 100.00% —– —– —– —– —– —–
Scott Rolen 4.20% 0.30% 4.20% 3.90% 6.30% 2.40% 2.00%
Curt Schilling 60.60% 20.80% 49.30% 39.80% 40.30% 0.50% -9.00%
Gary Sheffield 11.30% 1.60% 9.90% 9.70% 9.00% -0.70% -0.80%
Sammy Sosa 12.70% 8.80% 5.60% 3.90% 3.50% -0.40% -2.20%
Jim Thome —– —– 91.50% 89.30% 89.60% 0.30% -2.00%
Omar Vizquel 29.60% -9.30% 32.40% 38.80% 38.90% 0.10% 6.50%
Billy Wagner 9.90% 4.00% 5.60% 5.80% 7.60% 1.80% 2.00%
Larry Walker 45.10% 25.70% 16.90% 19.40% 20.80% 1.40% 3.90%

Four candidates have experienced an increase of at least 10% on 10-player ballots revealed prior to the announcement, with Omar Vizquel just off the pace. Walker is securely out in front of the pack, with a whopping 30% increase on such ballots from last year. Bear in mind that half of the 422 ballots cast in 2018 had awarded votes to 10 players. That Walker has appeared on over 80% of full ballots after receiving votes on just over half of them in 2018 is astounding. Having four names cleared from the ballot certainly opened up more opportunities for electors to cast a vote for Walker, as they may have done last year had the BBWAA allowed unlimited votes.

The even more jaw-dropping statistic is this: Walker’s vote share on sub-10 ballots has more than doubled since last cycle, up to 45.1%. Yes, that’s right. He appeared on just 19.4% of ballots that left at least one open spot last year, but has since seen that number skyrocket faster than the number of likes on a funny cat video gone viral. Walker has also gone 6-for-29 thus far on “Small Hall” ballots of six names or fewer. That might not sound like much, but that 20.7% is nearly identical to the 20.8% of all public sub-10 ballots that included his name. (For what it’s worth, Walker appeared on only two of the 44 publicized ballots that consisted of fewer than seven names last election cycle.)

What does all this mean for this year’s results? Consider the following: through the first 177 publicly revealed 2018 ballots, 53.8% of the 104 writers who checked 10 names cast a vote for Walker. That figure dropped down to 51.4% among all 317 public or anonymous ballots – including 173 full ballots – accounting for a rate decrease of 4.5% from the original vote share (I’m referring to the rate of change, which is different than simply the 2.4% decrease in percentage). Conversely, Walker only appeared on 16.9% of the 71 ballots that consisted of fewer than 10 names at the 177-vote mark, but that mark rose to 20.8% once all public ballots – 144 of which had fewer than the maximum number of slots filled – were uncovered. The rate of increase here was about +23%.

Let us make a few conservative assumptions:

1) The total number of ballots revealed in 2019 will be somewhere in the neighborhood of the 317 made public last year. Let’s say +/- 10 from that mark.
2) The previous year’s four-man induction class will lower the average number of candidates strongly considered by the voters, resulting in 10% fewer ballots with votes for 10 players. This would give a 45:55 ratio of full ballots against those selecting nine or fewer candidates.
3) Walker’s strong showing on full ballots thus far is inflated by early-exit-poll bias, and he will finish with a vote share that is just 90% of what it is currently on such ballots. Such a rate of decrease will get him 74.2% of the vote on public 2019 10-player ballots, just shy of election.
4) The 45.1% share Walker currently holds on smaller ballots will drop slightly by a net -2.0% (for an overall 43.1% vote share) despite increasing by 20% from this point last year and an overall change of +3.6%.
5) Points 2-4 factor in estimates for the portion of the voting body who chooses to keep their votes private.

Factoring in all of these assumptions, Walker would reel in a vote total of approximately 57.1%, which would represent a colossal increase of +23.0% in a single election cycle.

Last week, FanGraphs’ own Jay Jaffe explored the largest single-year gains in BBWAA voting history. In the event Walker does finish at exactly the aforementioned 57.1% figure, he would require an 18.0% increase in his final year of eligibility. Sounds steep, right? Perhaps, but gaining 18% in one year is far from unprecedented, and it would rank as just the 15th largest increase ever — tied with Ralph Kiner’s jump from 24.5% to 42.5% in 1967. It should be noted that a much more recent candidate, Vladimir Guerrero, jumped 21.2 percentage points, from 71.7% to 92.9%, in 2018.

Source: Ryan Thibodaux

Remember, I’m calling 57.1% of the vote for Walker a rather conservative estimate. There is certainly a chance he could come much closer or even exceed a three-fifths majority of the vote. In fact, the most recent model of Jason Sardell pegged 57% as the median estimate.

It certainly appears that we will have some drama on our hands in 10 months’ time when Walker hits the BBWAA ballot for the final time. A weaker ballot and the recent surges in vote totals for players late in their eligibility is sure to provide some additional excitement to the ballot tracking process next year. I would expect that every Walker fan will have run out of fingernails to bite come announcement day in 2020.

Even if Walker doesn’t get elected next year, he and fellow 2019 ballot-mate Fred McGriff might ultimately have a rather smooth road ahead of them. In the last two Eras Committee elections, we have seen three candidates who had gathered solid support during their tenure on the BBWAA ballot sail into Cooperstown upon their first introduction to one of these committees.

2018: Jack Morris, 14 of 16 votes, Modern Baseball
2018: Alan Trammell, 13 of 16 votes, Modern Baseball
2019: Lee Smith, 16 of 16 votes, Today’s Game

Each of these three former players received at least 40% of the BBWAA vote in at least one appearance on the ballot. Historically, many players who have received a relatively high vote share eventually made it to Cooperstown through some ideation of the committee structure. There are only 13 players – excluding those currently on the ballot – in Hall of Fame history who have accrued at least 30% of the overall Hall of Fame vote from the BBWAA who have not since been inducted to the Hall.

At least 30% of BBWAA Vote, Not In HOF
Player Best Vote % Yr Received Yr on Ballot Final Vote %
Gil Hodges 63.40% 1983 15 63.40%
Tony Oliva 47.30% 1988 7 36.20%
Roger Maris 43.10% 1988 15 43.10%
Steve Garvey 42.60% 1995 3 21.10%
Maury Wills 40.60% 1981 4 25.60%
Marty Marion 40.00% 1970 *9 33.40%
Harvey Kuenn 39.60% 1988 12 22.60%
Hank Gowdy 35.90% 1955 *14 14.10%
Phil Cavarretta 35.60% 1975 *12 35.60%
Johnny Sain 34.00% 1975 *10 34.00%
Allie Reynolds 33.60% 1968 *7 27.70%
Tommy John 31.70% 2009 15 31.70%
Luis Tiant 30.90% 1988 1 18.00%
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

(Disclaimer: Yr on Ballot refers to how many appearances on the ballot the candidate had made at the time his highest vote percentage was received. The BBWAA voting process has evolved greatly from a time when elections were biennial and the 5% minimum threshold did not exist. Some players appeared on the ballot more than 15 times while others were cast off prior to reaching 15 appearances. The * denotes players who appeared on the ballot before several more recent rule changes were instituted. For more on the evolution of Hall of Fame voting, see Jay Jaffe’s The Cooperstown Casebook.)

Note that only six of these players have ever even reached 40.0% of the vote, and just 4 of the 13 exited the ballot with a vote share above 35%. With McGriff currently tracking at 36.2% through 177 ballots, is it likely that he joins this group, considering that he has been favored by private voters more so than public voters each year since the massive purge of the voting body prior to the 2016 election. It is conceivable that the Crime Dog crosses 40.0% of the vote this year, and probable that he – like Morris, Trammell, and Smith – is easily elected by the next Today’s Game Committee, which will meet in December of 2021 to determine which candidates should receive a bronze plaque the following July.

I will touch only briefly on Mussina here, as fellow member of the Tracker team Anthony Calamis thoroughly explored Mussina’s chances for FanGraphs recently. Mussina ranks fourth – behind the three near surefire inductees – in votes on full ballots, missing only seven out of 102 tallied thus far. Along with the three most likely inductees and Curt Schilling, Moose has also gotten the nod on more than 75% of 9-player ballots as well as the 7-or-8-vote group. He is the only candidate besides Rivera – who remains unanimous – to appear on all 19 of the 9-player ballots to date.

At first glance, it would appear as though Mussina’s luck runs out once we get to the true “Small Hall” ballots, which I will label as those containing six votes or fewer – he is just 9-for-30 on those. If we eliminate the “Tiny Hall” 0-4 player ballot category — votes on these ballots are most likely to be awarded to the candidates with the highest vote shares (there is only one public ballot that has named exactly four players) — on which ballots Mussina has been shut out, his vote total share is 39.1% (9 of 23) on remaining Small Hall ballots.

As Calamis mentioned, the average number of votes per ballot is sure to drop precipitously among private voters, who notoriously are far less likely to cast a vote for Bonds and Clemens. In my estimation, a large number of private ballots will fit into the Small Hall demographic. I also believe that the current breakdown of 5-or-6-player ballots – 11 including both Bonds and Clemens (on which Mussina has failed to earn a vote), 12 excluding them – will begin to shift greatly towards the latter as more votes are made public; my guess is that trend will also hold true among private voters. If this is true, Mussina has a chance to remain close to the 75% mark (9 of 12) he holds on such ballots because, as Calamis indicates, he was the second-ranked ballot holdover behind Martinez in terms of 2018 vote percentage. It remains to be seen whether the man known as Moose will have enough gas in the tank to cross the proverbial finish line this year, or if he will have to wait it out until 2020.

Several other players will be covered in greater detail in a subsequent piece next week, but for now I will leave you with a brief overview of some other interesting trends gathered from my Ballots by Quantity sheet.

Scott Rolen, who ranks 12th on the Tracker in overall vote percentage, has gathered votes on 33 of the first 102 full ballots – not a bad showing for a second-year candidate who barely eclipsed 10% of the overall vote when all was said and done last year. However, Rolen has the rather puzzling distinction of being a paltry 4-for-75 on any other ballots, a mark which only bests Andruw Jones’ among candidates likely to remain on the ballot in 2020. Similarly, Rolen was polling at just 3.9% on less-than-10 ballots on all 2018 pre-announcement ballots.

I was rather stunned to see the remarkable consistency of first-timer Todd Helton’s vote distribution. Excluding the stingiest group of Tiny Hall ballots from the mix, Helton’s vote percentage has ranged from a lower bound of 17.4% to an upper bound of 23.1% in each of the remaining four size categories through the first 177 revealed ballots. Naturally, he has benefited substantially more from ballots of the anti-Bonds and Clemens variety.

For a candidate who received just an 11.1% vote share in 2018, eight new supporters for Billy Wagner so far is a step in the right direction (he was also dropped from one ballot, but that ballot included 10 names and Wagner is almost certainly going to earn that vote back in the coming years). Closers historically have received a small boost among the un-published ballots, so the possibility exists that Billy The Kid’s final percentage can be a few ticks higher than where it stands currently. I have long believed that 2020 would be the year that things could really begin to take off for Wagner. He will finally be able to stand alone as the top relief pitcher on the ballot and out of the shadows of Smith, Trevor Hoffman, and Rivera. Wagner will also – at least in the opinion of this observer – have the distinction of being the greatest reliever outside of Cooperstown, period.

If Walker can total 15.5% in his sixth year of eligibility and we are – just three years later – discussing how he might actually have a chance at 75% in his final year, perhaps hope is on the horizon for Wagner, set to reach the 15.5% threshold two years earlier. Only time will tell.


Getting Mike Mussina to 75 Percent

Editor’s Note: As we approach the January 22 Hall of Fame announcement, we’ll be featuring a few pieces from Anthony Calamis and Adam Dore, members of Ryan Thibodaux’s excellent team that tracks public Hall of Fame ballot. This is the first such piece. Be sure to check out the ballot tracker, which is an indispensable tool for any Hall of Fame enthusiast.

In case you have somehow missed any of Jay Jaffe’s excellent coverage over the last month, December is the time of the year when Hall of Fame ballots get mailed out. More than 400 BBWAA members comprise the voting body tasked with electing players to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

I’m part of a four-person ballot-tracking team led by Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs) that finds every public ballot, records the percentage of votes for each candidate, and tracks which players have been added to or dropped from a voter’s ballot from one year to the next, assuming they were public in both years. Right now, there are 172 ballots in the Tracker.

This year in particular, a few intriguing trends have emerged as ballots have been made public. I chose to explore Mike Mussina’s candidacy and what needs to happen over the next nine days for him to share the stage next July with likely inductees such as Mariano Rivera.

Before diving into the particulars, here is a table showing the current results in the Tracker:

2019 BBWAA HOF Vote (172 Ballots Returned)
Candidate Votes Percentage
Mariano Rivera 172 100.0%
Roy Halladay 162 94.2%
Edgar Martinez 155 90.1%
Mike Mussina 140 81.4%
Curt Schilling 127 73.8%
Roger Clemens 126 73.3%
Barry Bonds 125 72.7%
Larry Walker 113 65.7%
Omar Vizquel 62 36.0%
Fred McGriff 61 35.5%
Manny Ramirez 45 26.2%
Scott Rolen 36 20.9%
Todd Helton 35 20.3%
Billy Wagner 26 15.1%
Sammy Sosa 23 13.4%
Gary Sheffield 23 13.4%
Jeff Kent 22 12.8%
Andruw Jones 14 8.1%
Andy Pettitte 12 7.0%
Michael Young 3 1.7%
Lance Berkman 2 1.2%
Roy Oswalt 2 1.2%
Miguel Tejada 2 1.2%
SOURCE: Ryan Thibodaux’s 2019 Baseball HOF Tracker

Three of the candidates have had their boxes checked on over 90% of known ballots. All the others are below the required 75% for election, leaving Mussina as the most interesting bubble candidate this year. In the 2018 voting, Mussina received votes on 268 of the possible 422 ballots cast, good for 63.5%, 11.5% (or 49 votes) shy of election; Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman all surpassed 75%.

Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Big Jumps Redux

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

It would be inaccurate to say that in the months from November through January, I spend hours a day simply refreshing and reloading the Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker. On the advice of my doctor, I’ve cut down to an hour a day, tops, and besides, I’ve got spreadsheets of my own that get jealous of how I spend my time. My voting results sheet, which has every candidate’s year-by-year progress since 1966, is a particular favorite. With my profiles of all 35 candidates on this year’s ballot complete, it’s time to think about what these two particular spreadsheets are telling us right now, particularly with regards to two candidates: Larry Walker and Mike Mussina. Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Loose Ends

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Over the course of delivering a novel’s worth of words, sentences, and paragraphs about this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, including revisions to 15 candidate profiles previously published at SI.com, inevitably, I’ve let various tidbits — some more pertinent to their cases than others — slip through the cracks. Sometimes, I learned new information about the player in question after those profiles’ publication, remembered something that slipped my mind, or decided that a tangent would lengthen an already-long piece. Other times, a reader or fellow writer called my attention to a detail that I’d missed.

In the interest of Getting It Right, I’ve been keeping notes on those things, and figured I’d share them in one catch-all post, which will serve the additional purpose of prompting me to include some of these items in the candidates’ respective profiles next time around.

Working alphabetically…

Barry Bonds

As anyone who follows Hall of Fame voting knows, ever since Bonds and Roger Clemens became eligible in 2013, both players have received far less support than their accomplishments would otherwise merit due to allegations connecting them to performance-enhancing drugs. While voters have treated the pair similarly, Clemens has received more votes than Bonds on every ballot thus far, by a margin ranging from one vote (2017) to eight (2013); last year, it was four. I’ve read and heard myriad explanations for that gap, ranging from race to longstanding sportswriter grudges to the perception that the drugs had a greater effect on the slugger’s career (insofar as they aided him in breaking the single-season and all-time home run records) to Bonds’ roundabout admission under oath that he used the drugs, pitted against Clemens’ vehement denials.

A recent Twitter conversation between colleague Dan Szymborski and ESPN’s T.J. Quinn offered an additional explanation that touches upon an issue I had failed to include in my writeup. In 2007, Quinn (then at the New York Daily News) broke the story that Bonds had failed an MLB-administered test for amphetamines during the 2006 season; Bonds initially blamed it on a substance taken from the locker of teammate Mark Sweeney. While amphetamines and other banned stimulants such as Adderall are considered PEDs under MLB’s drug policy — some of them are allowed for legitimate medical reasons, so long as a player gets a therapeutic use exemption (a possibility Bonds later explored) — a player is not publicly identified and suspended for stimulant use until a second offense (à la Miguel Tejada). A player testing positive for the first time is instead referred for treatment and counseling, and is subject to additional testing. Quinn reported that Bonds subsequently passed six tests in six months.

Thus, if Quinn’s reporting is correct — and there’s no reason to believe it is not, given his stellar track record — Bonds did actually fail an MLB-administered test, where Clemens (so far as we know) did not. For voters interested in splitting hairs, well, there’s one to split.

Todd Helton

At the recent Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, two writers who covered Helton during his career with the Rockies, MLB.com’s Thomas Harding and the Denver Post‘s Patrick Saunders, offered a couple of notes regarding my profile, one concerning Helton’s brief college football career at the University of Tennessee — and specifically my assertion that he had won the starting job as a junior — and the other noting a potential trade later in his career that I had long forgotten about.

Entering the 1994 season, Helton’s junior year, Jerry Colquitt was Tennessee’s starting quarterback, succeeding the NFL-bound Heath Shuler. On the seventh play of the season-opening game at UCLA, Colquitt tore his left ACL. Helton, freshmen Peyton Manning, and Branndon Stewart all played QB during that game, as coach Phillip Fulmer tried to “get a competition started.” Helton rallied the Volunteers for 23 fourth-quarter points, but Tennessee lost, 25-23. He started Tennessee’s next three games (a win over Georgia, and losses to Florida and Mississippi State) but injured a knee in the last of those games and yielded to Manning, who took over the job and went on to fame and fortune. Helton likely would have stopped playing football after the season anyway to focus on baseball; he was chosen with the eighth overall pick by the Rockies the following spring.

As for that potential trade, in January 2007, the Rockies talked to the Red Sox about a possible deal that would have sent Helton — who had waived his no-trade clause and still had $90.1 million remaining on his $141.5 million contract — to Boston, with third baseman Mike Lowell, pitcher Julian Tavarez, and prospects heading to Colorado. The Red Sox did not want to include the two relief prospects the Rockies wanted in the deal, namely Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen, while Colorado didn’t want to include more than $36.1 million of Helton’s remaining salary. The talks broke down. Later that year, of course, the two teams met in the World Series.

Andruw Jones

It’s no secret that the foundation of Jones’ candidacy rests upon his defense. He won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves (1998-2007) and based on the combination of Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved used at Baseball-Reference, his 235 fielding runs ranks first among all center fielders. Thanks to that glovework, he’s 11th in JAWS at the position.

Of course, there’s room to quibble when it comes to defensive metrics, particularly at the extremes. On the one hand, it’s worth noting that UZR values Jones’ defense more highly than DRS does; for the years 2003-2012, for which we have both metrics, his 111 UZR is well beyond his 66 DRS. One system, however, takes a very different view: RED (Runs Effectively Defended), a forerunner to other batted ball data-based metrics such as DRS and UZR that was created by Chris Dial. RED is not currently published anywhere (hopefully, that will change), but it is included among the alphabet soup of metrics in the SABR Defensive Index, which has accounted for 25% of the Gold Gloves voting since 2013.

“By every metric available in the late 1990s – Baseball Reference Total Zone, Michael Humphries’ DRA, and RED, which is based on STATS Zone Rating batted ball data — Andruw’s defense was outstanding,” wrote Dial in a data-heavy email to me (which he gave permission to share). In Dial’s assertion, Jones came back to the pack in the early 2000s, and fell below average defensively from 2003 onward, more or less. Here’s his table comparing the various metrics:

Andruw Jones’ Defensive Metrics, 1997-2008
Season Weight Speed RED TZ DRA UZR DRS SDI
1997 170 4.8 7.8 14.2 10.1 10.2
1998 170 7.5 22.2 35.3 41.0 30.9
1999 185 5.7 14.6 35.7 58.9 32.4
2000 185 6.2 1.4 25.0 30.6 15.8
2001 210 4.8 3.3 26.6 43.7 20.7
2002 210 3.1 -1.4 19.2 33.8 15.7 14.3
2003 210 3.6 -8.5 18.6 20.7 17.3 14.0 10.7
2004 210 3.8 -3.3 17.3 16.8 24.4 8.0 11.2
2005 210 3.5 0.7 18.5 -5.9 26.2 15.9 11.3
2006 210 3.1 -7.7 18.8 1.9 12.8 12.0 6.7
2007 210 3.8 -8.6 12.0 10.1 23.2 19.0 10.6
2008 210 2.9 -1.6 -7.5 1.7 0.3 -6.0 -2.7
Total 18.9 233.7 263.4 120.0 62.9 172.1
SOURCE: Chris Dial
SDI = SABR Defensive Index (weighted average of the included metrics: RED & DRS 25%, UZR 20%, TZ & DRA 15%). Speed = Bill James Speed Score; see https://library.fangraphs.com/offense/spd/
Weights via Topps baseball cards, “which are likely conservative,” according to Dial. “Their 2009 card lists him at 240 pounds, which is closer.”

Where the weighted SDI supports’ Jones’ claim on 10 Gold Gloves, Dial’s RED-driven view suggests he should have won only three (1997-1999). According to Dial, the other metrics, both before the arrival of batted ball data and after, aren’t sensitive to the way Jones’ fielding numbers are propped up by discretionary plays, routine ones where more than one player could have caught the ball. “Jones just took all the discretionary plays from the left fielder and continued to do so after he had lost his range. That’s not talent, it’s Kelly Leak,” referring to the ball-hogging star of the Bad News Bears. UZR and DRS “weight plays made by percentage for a position – when Andruw takes a discretionary play, he gets too much extra credit in those systems. Everything else tells us Andruw lost a step or three. His zone ratings (percentage of balls caught), his extra weight, his speed scores, his range factors. How the other metrics miss this, I cannot say.” Dial wrote. Another table:

Average fielding chances for Braves Outfielders
Postion Pre-Jones (1989-1993) Prime Jones (1997-2003) Old Jones (2004-2007)
Center field 477 481 462
Left field 361 290 348
Right field 378 368 356
SOURCE: Chris Dial

Dial has excluded the shortened 1994 and ’95 seasons as well as Jones’ cup-of-coffee 1996 season from the table. Note the big dip in left field chances for 1997-2003, which rebounds to a number on par with the right fielders’ total because, according to Dial, the older Jones could no longer get to as many balls, and also because the team upgraded from less capable left fielders such as Ryan Klesko (alongside Jones in 1997 and ’98) and Chipper Jones (2002 and ’03).

I’m not sure I buy that last part; if the discretionary plays disappeared, why are his 2004-2007 metrics via other systems still so strong? Nonetheless, Dial has provided a compelling alternative view that at the very least is in line with the voters’ general consensus regarding Jones, who has received just 8.0% from among the 162 ballots published thus far after getting 7.3% last year.

Edgar Martinez

Between Craig Biggio (74.8% in 2014), Jeff Bagwell (71.6% in 2016), Vladimir Guerrero (71.7% in 2017), Trevor Hoffman (74.0% in 2017) and Martinez (70.4% in 2018), we’ve had an unusually large number of near-misses in recent elections — players getting between 70 and 74.9% — and that’s not even counting Mike Piazza (69.9% in 2015) or Tim Raines (69.8% in 2016). Thus, I’ve often hauled out a bit of research that, as updated for Martinez’s 2019 profile, read like this: “Since 1966, 19 out of 20 candidates who received at least 70% of the vote and had eligibility remaining were elected the following year, with Jim Bunning the lone exception; he received 70.0% in 1987 (his 11th year), then 74.2% in 1988 before slipping to 63.3% in 1989. Ultimately, he was elected by the Veterans Committee…”

Left unexplained is exactly how Bunning missed out, and what caused him to fall further. To the first point, as it turns out, in 1988, nine voters — including Bill Madden and Phil Pepe of the New York Daily News, Moss Klein of the Newark Star-Ledger, and at least four other New York-area voters submitted blank ballots as a general protest against what they believed to be the erosion of Hall of Fame standards. “Maybe my standards are higher than most people,” Pepe said. “But I think the Hall of Fame is too crowded … I think to go in alongside Ruth, DiMaggio, Williams, Aaron, Cy Young, you have to be the cream of the cream.”

Had the blank ballots — which are counted in the total, and therefore each require three “yes” votes to offset for a candidate to maintain a 75% share — not come in, Bunning would have received 317 votes out of 418 (75.8%) instead of 317 out of 427 (74.2%). As for Bunning’s support plummeting the next year, to the point that he missed election by 53 votes, it probably owed something to the flood of strong first-time candidates. Both Johnny Bench (who received 96.4% of the vote) and Carl Yastrzemski (94.6%) were slam-dunk first-ballot guys, and some voters may have simply kept their ballots short, leaving off even 314-game winner Gaylord Perry, who had the next-highest share of the vote (68.0%). In head-to-head comparisons, Perry’s win and strikeout numbers dwarf Bunning’s, as do those of Ferguson Jenkins (52.3%); by the next year, the latter overtook Bunning in the voting as well.

Alas, I uncovered one tantalizing Bunning-related lead that turned out to be a dead end. In a 2011 Baseball Prospectus interview with current FanGraphs contributor David Laurila, BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell suggested that the Bunning-bumping blanks were in protest of the Veterans Committee election of catcher Rick Ferrell (the lowest-ranked Hall of Famer at the position according to JAWS). But since Ferrell’s oft-mocked election was in 1984, that theory appears farfetched.

Mike Mussina

Maybe it was because I’d already included a GIF from Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) showing Mussina’s knuckle curve in action that I chose to leave this one out, but more likely, I just plumb forgot.

Gotta love Joe Torre’s reaction. Given the score bug atop the GIF, a bit of Play Index sleuthing reveals that this encounter was from the ninth inning of Mussina’s May 31, 2006 start against the Tigers. Up 6-0, he allowed a two-out RBI single to Magglio Ordonez, who brought home Placido Polanco, who had reached on an Alex Rodriguez throwing error. Mussina finished the job by striking out Carlos Guillen, capping the last of his 57 career complete games.


JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: One-and-Dones, Part 4

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

At last, we’ve reached the final installment of my round-up of the 14 players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot who are certain to fall below the 5% threshold, with most of them being shut out entirely. It’s no tragedy that they’ll miss out on plaques in Cooperstown, but their triumphs and travails are worth remembering just the same.

Jon Garland

Known mainly for his durability, Garland was the perfect embodiment of a League Average Innings Muncher (LAIM), a term coined by blogger Travis Nelson in late 2003, generally describing dogged but unspectacular sorts such as Dave Burba, Jeff Suppan, and Steve Trachsel who rarely deviated from average run prevention by more than 10%. Over a nine-year span from 2002-2010, the heavy sinker-reliant Garland never made fewer than 32 starts or threw fewer than 191.2 innings, only once finishing with an ERA+ outside of the 91-to-111 range. In 2005, he put it all together, making his lone All-Star team and helping the White Sox to their first championship in 88 years.

Born September 27, 1979 in Valencia, California, Garland grew to 6-foot-5 1/2 and 200 pounds by the time he was a senior in high school (1997), able to throw 90 mph when that was a big deal. That year, he made a variety of pre- and postseason All-America teams, and planned to go to the University of Southern California, but when he was chosen with the 10th pick of the amateur draft by the Cubs, he signed for a $1.325 million bonus and was on his way. Less than 14 months later, he was traded to the White Sox straight up for reliever Matt Karchner in a rare crosstown deal; the Cubs got all of 60.2 innings of 0.1 WAR relief work in exchange for their top pick from the previous season.

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: One-and-Dones, Part 3

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Yet another installment of our quick look at the 14 players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot who are certain to fall below the 5% threshold — with most of them being shut out entirely — but are worth remembering just the same.

Kevin Youkilis

At the major league level, Youkilis’ reputation — “Euclis: the Greek god of walks,” as nicknamed by Michael Lewis in the 2003 bestseller, Moneyball — preceded his arrival by over a year. First a source of friction between the A’s analytically-minded front office and their scouts ahead of the 2001 draft, and later a player they coveted as a potential acquisition, Youkilis was Billy Beane’s white whale, forever eluding Oakland’s general manager. Though he lasted just 10 years in the majors, he hit .281/.382/.478 (123 OPS+) while making three All-Star teams, and winning a Gold Glove and two championship rings, one as the Red Sox’s starting first baseman.

Born in Cincinnati on March 15, 1979, Youkilis did not have any actual Greek ancestry. Via Sports Illustrated‘s Mark Bechtel in 2007:

Youk’s family history reads like a Michael Chabon novel: Back in the 19th century in Romania, males were conscripted at the age of 16. The Cossacks in the region weren’t known for their tolerance, so many Jews tried to avoid enlisting in the army. Youk’s great-great-great-grandfather—no one is sure what his first name was, but the family name was Weiner (it’s actually pronounced WINE-er)—moved to Greece, where the family had friends. After a year or two he got homesick and returned to Romania, but he assumed a Greek name so he could avoid the army and jail. And with that, the Youkilis family was born.

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: One-and-Dones, Part 2

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

We continue our quick look at the 14 players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot who are certain to fall below the 5% threshold — with most of them being shut out entirely — but are worth remembering just the same.

Placido Polanco

A valuable player who started for five playoff teams, Polanco didn’t pack much punch with his contact-oriented approach at the plate, but he was quite a glove whiz, rangy and sure-handed, at home at both second base and third. In fact, he was just the second player to win Gold Gloves at multiple positions (after Darin Erstad), and his 136 career fielding runs ranks 31st among all infielders.

Born on October 10, 1975 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Polanco came to the U.S. on a student visa, attending Miami Dade Community College. Drafted by the Cardinals in the 19th round in 1994, he began his minor league career as a shortstop, and though he spent all of 1996 and ’97 as a second baseman, played more short than second during his 45-game callup in 1998. He spent most of his five-season tenure in St. Louis as a utilityman, earning an increasing amount of playing time as his offense improved. In 2000, he hit .316/.347/.418 in 350 PA, while in 2001 he upped his playing time to 610 PA while batting .307/.342/.383; he was a combined 23 runs above average at third base (his primary position), second and short, boosting his WAR to 4.5. The Cardinals made the playoffs in both of those seasons.

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JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: One-and-Dones, Part 1

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

For better or worse, I’m a completist. In 15 years of analyzing Hall of Fame ballots using my JAWS system, I’ve never let a candidate pass without comment, no matter how remote his chance of election. From the brothers Alomar to the youngest Alou and the elder Young, I’ve covered them all. It should come as no surprise, then, that I’m tackling the minor candidates on the 2019 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in addition to the major ones — of which there were 21 this year. That leaves 14 to go.

To be eligible for election, a player must appear in games in at least 10 major league seasons, with a career that ended at least five calendar years ago, and then be nominated by at least two members of a six-member screening committee — a step that can produce some arbitrary results, as I noted last month. Given the backlog of strong candidates, this is no tragedy in the grand scheme of things, since most newcomers have no shot at gaining the 75% of the votes necessary for election. Indeed, the 14 players in question have received a total of four votes among the 140 ballots published thus far; nobody here will come close to the minimum 5% needed to remain on the ballot. Just the same, these one-and-done candidates were accomplished players who deserve their valedictory, so I’ll spend the remainder of this series running through the ones about whom we might say, “They also served.”

Rick Ankiel

Ankiel’s path through the majors — from pitching phenom through a debilitating bout of the yips and then Tommy John surgery to a second career as an outfielder — was unlike any other. As I wrote last month, his mere appearance on this Hall of Fame ballot is a triumph unto itself, even if his numbers offer no reasonable basis for election.

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Jay Jaffe’s 2019 Hall of Fame Virtual Ballot

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. It draws upon work originally written for previous elections at SI.com, and has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

The venue has changed but the song remains the same: there’s no such thing as a perfect Hall of Fame ballot. Even with the BBWAA electing a record-setting 16 players over the past five years, the backlog on the ballot is such that there are more plausible candidates than will fit within a voter’s 10 allotted spots.

In an ideal world, a voter could fill out his or her ballot entirely according to merit, selecting every candidate who meets the Hall of Fame standards by his or her own reckoning. This is the so-called “binary ballot,” as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Derrick Goold christened it several years ago. In reality, any voter who identifies more than 10 candidates worthy of the honor is required to perform a kind of triage — weighing some tough questions before selecting his or her top 10 candidates while hoping the traffic abates enough to allow consideration of those who just missed the cut next year. Beyond simply worrying that they’ll catch hell from the public for supporting Player X, or will miss an opportunity to support the low-polling Player Y, voters have to deal with thorny issues such as candidates linked to performance-enhancing drugs and the (mis)application of the so-called “character clause.”

The notion that there may be more than 10 candidates at a time worthy of the game’s highest honor might raise some eyebrows, but study the history of the Hall of Fame and its denizens and you’ll quickly be reminded that they can’t all be Willie Mays. While voting for everyone better than Bad Choice Player Q based on a lowest common denominator standard isn’t the right answer, the writers and the institution have failed to keep pace in terms of electing modern players, not just those who played in the 1990s and 2000s, but further back as well. Limiting the field to those elected by the BBWAA, and calling upon research I compiled for The Cooperstown Casebook, here’s a breakdown of the average number of Hall of Famers per team per season for select periods:

Hall of Famers Per Team Per Year
Period HOF/Team/Year
1925–1941 1.54
1946–1968 1.39
1969–1992 1.31
1993–2005 0.79
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
BBWAA-elected only.

I’ve omitted the World War II years, when several future Hall of Famers entered the service, and placed other cutoffs right at the point of two rounds of expansion (from 20 teams to 24 in 1969, and from 26 to 28 in 1993). My point is that the level of representation is below 1.0 from 1997 onward, and has been higher than 0.63 just once since 1999. All of which is to say that relative to long-term historical norms, we’re missing about 15-20 Hall of Famers from the post-strike era. Some of that, and the ballot’s backlog, owes to the split in the electorate regarding the handing of candidates linked to PEDs, with the Hall’s ham-fisted attempts to interject — from their unilateral 2014 decision to truncate the eligibility window from 15 years to 10 to last year’s plea from Joe Morgan — only exacerbating the problem.

Despite the work I put into my annual series and into Hall of Fame research in general, I do not yet have a ballot of my own. Under BBWAA rules, I am two years away from that privilege. Nonetheless, every year I create my virtual ballot to illustrate the hard choices a voter faces, and do so by the ballot submission deadline (December 31). As always, I am guided by my JAWS system, but not bound by it, for there are considerations that a Wins Above Replacement-based methodology — which can account for the widespread variations in scoring from era to era and ballpark to ballpark (producing the occasional double-take) — can’t capture, including pennant race and postseason contributions, awards and honors, and historical importance.

Over the past six weeks, I’ve analyzed the top 21 candidates on the ballot, the ones who are in serious consideration for those 10 precious spots (beyond the odd courtesy vote). I’ll get back to the remaining 14 “one-and-done” guys — who between them have gathered a grand total of four votes from among the 135 published ballots thus far — later this week, as they’re fun to write about without fixating upon how short of Hall standards they are. But now, it’s time to fish or cut bait.

Of those top 21 candidates on this year’s ballot, nine exceed the JAWS standard — the average of the enshrined players — at their position. Six of those nine top the career WAR, peak WAR, and JAWS standards across the board, while the other three from among that group are short only on peak. Separately, four other candidates exceed the peak standard. Beyond that is one “candidate of interest,” a player who falls shy on JAWS but about whom I remain particularly open-minded, for reasons explained below. That’s 14 players; the other seven are mainly guys whom other voters are considering, but are just along for the ride here as far as I’m concerned. I’ll include them for illustrative purposes…

Top 2019 Hall of Fame Candidates
Player YoB Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS Margin
Barry Bonds 7 162.8 72.7 117.8 64.3
Roger Clemens 7 139.6 66.0 102.8 41.0
Mariano Rivera 1 56.2 28.7 42.5 10.2
Curt Schilling 7 79.6 48.7 64.1 2.3
Mike Mussina 6 83.0 44.6 63.8 2.0
Scott Rolen 2 70.2 43.7 56.9 1.2
Manny Ramirez 3 69.4 40.0 54.7 1.2
Larry Walker 9 72.7 44.7 58.7 0.9
Edgar Martinez 10 68.4 43.7 56.0 0.3
Todd Helton 1 61.2 46.5 53.9 -0.8
Andruw Jones 2 62.8 46.5 54.7 -3.2
Roy Halladay 1 64.3 50.6 57.5 -4.3
Sammy Sosa 7 58.6 43.8 51.2 -6.6
Lance Berkman 1 52.1 39.3 45.7 -7.8
Gary Sheffield 5 60.5 38.0 49.3 -8.5
Billy Wagner 4 27.7 19.8 23.7 -8.6
Fred McGriff 10 52.6 36.0 44.3 -10.4
Jeff Kent 6 55.4 35.7 45.6 -11.4
Andy Pettitte 1 60.3 34.1 47.2 -14.6
Roy Oswalt 1 50.1 40.3 45.2 -16.6
Omar Vizquel 2 45.6 26.8 36.2 -18.8
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

…And then bid them adieu. If you want to know more about why Berkman, Kent, McGriff, Oswalt, Pettitte, Sheffield, and Vizquel don’t make my cut, I’ve got a few thousand words to that effect on to each, which you can access by using the navigator widget atop this article

As I’ve said repeatedly throughout this series, when it comes to candidates connected to PEDs, I draw a line between those whose allegations date back to the time when the game had no testing regimen or means of punishment (i.e., prior to 2004) and those that came afterwards. With no means of enforcing a paper ban, and with players flouting such a ban being rewarded left and right amid what was truly a complete institutional failure that implicated owners, the commissioner, and the players’ union as well as the players, I simply don’t think voters can apply a retroactive morality to say that a Bonds or a Clemens or a Sosa should be disqualified on that basis alone. I’ve done enough research to believe that this is a reasonable place to start, but it must be acknowledged that there’s no consensus within the electorate over how to handle the issue, and voters’ views on the topic range from “performance only” to “hang ’em high at the first hint of suspicion.”

Thus, two spots on my ballot go to Bonds, the all-time home run leader, and Clemens, the best pitcher since World War II. As noted within my profiles of the gruesome twosome, the pair made big gains on the 2016 and 2017 ballots, surpassing the 50% mark in the latter year, but saw their momentum slow in 2018, with Clemens receiving 57.3% and Bonds 56.4%. They won’t be elected this year, but with three years of eligibility remaining beyond this one, they still have reasonable shots, needing to pick up about five percentage points per year.

By that same rule of thumb, I’m crossing Ramirez off the list. On a performance-only basis, he would get my vote, as he’s one of the greatest hitters of all time; his 154 OPS+ ranks 20th. But I simply can’t get past the two failed tests, not when better players who never tested positive are being kept out over more nebulous PED allegations.

That leaves 11 players for eight spots. Easily making the cut, with my lightning-round summaries of their cases, are the following six:

  • Rivera (2nd among relievers in JAWS): The greatest closer of all time in terms of both saves and win probability added, and a player with an unequaled body of postseason work — a 0.70 ERA in 141 innings, with 31 saves of four outs or more, and four times on the mound for the final out of the World Series — as well.
  • Halladay (43rd among starters in JAWS): No, he’s not above the JAWS standard, but he’s at the vanguard of a wave of pitchers who probably won’t get to that point due to workload constraints, with a magnificent, above-standard peak that surpasses every pitcher on this ballot except Clemens. Despite qualifying for the ERA title just eight times, he had seven top-five finishes in that category, and eight in WAR. It’s a tragedy that he didn’t live to see his election, but he’s worthy of this honor.
  • Mussina (29th among starters in JAWS, 63.5%% in 2018): Despite his lack of a Cy Young, championship ring or major milestone (300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts), his long-term success at run prevention and his outstanding strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio make him eminently worthy of Cooperstown. With three years of big gains in a row, his election is a matter of when, not if.
  • Rolen (10th among third basemen in JAWS, 10.2% in 2018): An exceptional but underappreciated two-way player, Rolen combined power and patience at the plate with some of the best glove work the hot corner has ever seen. Even in a career that contained numerous injuries and ended at age 37, he ranks third at position both in fielding runs (+175) and in Gold Gloves (eight) and, depending upon your choice of metric, belongs among the top 10 or 20 hitters for the position as well. Particularly at an underrepresented spot — there are just 14 third basemen in the Hall, compared to 26 right fielders and 19 to 21 of every other position besides catcher — he merits enshrinement. His candidacy is off to a slow start, but he’s picked up some support and several voters have mentioned adding him in the future.
  • Martinez (11th among third basemen in JAWS, 70.4% in 2018): With apologies to David Ortiz, Martinez is not just the best designated hitter of all time but one of the best hitters ever, ranking 14th in OBP and tied for 30th in OPS+ (7,000 PA minimum), with 500-plus average-ish games at third base bolstering his value. As of 2015, his candidacy looked like a lost cause, with just 27.0% of the vote and his remaining time on the ballot having shrunk from nine years to four, but three straight years of double-digit gains has put him within reach of completing a Tim Raines-like ascension to Cooperstown this year, his final one on the ballot.
  • Walker (10th among right fielders in JAWS, 34.1% in 2018): A legitimate five-tool player, Walker was outstanding at defense and base running as well as hitting. Even after adjusting for the time he spent at high altitude, he’s tied for 43rd all-time in OPS+. His injury-shortened career has provoked some resistance among voters, but they are finally coming around; in his second-to-last year on the ballot, he’s received 65.2% of the vote from those published at @NotMrTibbs’ Ballot Tracker thus far, a remarkable surge that should at least get the attention of the Today’s Game committee if he falls short next year.

That’s eight spots filled, leaving five players vying for the final two:

  • Schilling (27th among starters in JAWS, 51.2% in 2018): He was the best postseason pitcher of his generation, with an outstanding strikeout rate and the best strikeout-to-walk ratio since the pitching distance moved to 60-foot-6. And contrary to his conspiracy theory — no, not the Qanon one — he was trending towards election in spite of his abrasive public persona and political views, at least until his November 2016 praise of a pro-lynching tweet stopped his momentum, costing him 7.3 percentage points relative to 2016; he regained most of that ground last year.

    Thus far I’m six-for-six in including Schilling on my virtual ballots, despite my increasing distaste for that persona. Garden-variety political differences I can abide, and his politics had no bearing on his playing career; it’s a mistake to connect Schilling’s words to the “integrity, sportsmanship, character” portion of the Hall’s voting instructions. That said, I will freely admit that I can’t stomach the lynching tweet, his sharing of a transphobic meme, or his alignment with a white supremacist congressional candidate that even the alt-right Breitbart site backed away from. (Belatedly, after the horse was out of the barn, so did Schilling.)

    Though he’s polling at 72.6% in the Tracker, Schilling is no real threat to come close to 75% this year; he received votes on just 32.4% of the unpublished ballots last year. All of which means we’re going to have to rehash the litany again next year. For all of the above — the stuff that crosses lines beyond politics, and the sheer agita he causes us all in this process — I’m skipping him this year. This isn’t a character clause matter, it’s a ballot-management one.

  • Jones (11th among center fielders in JAWS, 7.3% in 2018): If 2018 Hall of Fame honoree Chipper Jones was the Braves dynasty’s offensive cornerstone, Andruw Jones was its defensive one, an elite fly-chaser who won 10 Gold Gloves and ranks first in fielding runs (+236). He could hit, too, bopping 434 career homers. His career collapsed at age 31, however; he played just 435 games over his final five seasons, disappearing from the majors at age 35. So while he’s well above the peak standard, he’s short on the career one and in JAWS. I’m not so bothered by that, given his relative ranking and the fact that the standard in center field and right field are a few points higher than every other position.
  • Sosa (18th among right fielders in JAWS, 7.8% in 2017): A towering figure in baseball’s return from the strike, and just the sixth player to reach 600 home runs, he’s nonetheless below the bar in JAWS. That matters more to me than the report that he was on the supposedly anonymous 2003 survey test, which as noted above, belongs to the “Wild West” era before the game had a coherent PED policy. What’s more, commissioner Rob Manfred basically disavowed it in the context of celebrating David Ortiz, on the grounds that some disputed results were never resolved because the threshold to implement testing had been reached. That doesn’t mean Sosa was clean, but if MLB couldn’t penalize him, I’m not going to — though it still doesn’t mean I’m obligated to vote for him.
  • Helton (15th among first basemen in JAWS): An exceptional hitter who served as the face of the Rockies franchise, he put up very big numbers in the first half of his career, numbers that hold up once we adjust for his park and league scoring environment. Injuries caused him to fade away, as he had just one good season out of his last four, but it’s not out of the question that his time at altitude accelerated his physical decline. And anyway, his peak ranks 10th among first basemen, about four wins above the standard, and his JAWS is less than a point below it.
  • Wagner (tied for 20th among relievers in JAWS, 11.1% in 2017): The holder of the all-time record for strikeout rate and opponent batting average, albeit at just an 800-inning threshold. He’s short of the admittedly slapdash standard established by the seven enshrined relievers, but since I’ve never been entirely satisfied with how JAWS handles relievers, I’ve remained open-minded, seeking alternate ways to evaluate them using advanced stats, namely Win Probability Added (WPA) and situational or context-neutral wins (WPA/LI), both of which paint the pair in question in a better light than WAR. When I combine those with career WAR, averaging the three stats, he’s sixth behind Rivera, Dennis Eckersley, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rich Gossage, and Hoffman, ahead of Smith, Bruce Sutter, and Rollie Fingers.

At this point, I feel like a vote for Sosa is a wasted one, as he’s clearly going nowhere on the writers’ ballot. Jones is down there, too, at 8.1% in the tracker, but he’s in just the second year of his candidacy, so I’d be more inclined to vote for him simply to keep him on the ballot; he’s the only one from this quartet who made mine last year. Wagner (14.8%) and Helton (18.5%) are probably safe from being dropped.

None of this, not even bumping Schilling aside for a year, is easy. But Helton’s the closest on JAWS of the remaining four, and that’s good enough for me. And since I’ve wanted to include Wagner for the past two years but haven’t been able to find room, I’m going to use my 10th spot this time for him instead of Jones.

Bonds, Clemens, Halladay, Helton, Martinez, Mussina, Rivera, Rolen, Wagner, Walker — there it is, input into our crowd-sourcing ballot project under the wire (if you’re a registered FanGraphs user, you can do the same).

Of the 135 ballots input into the Tracker as of Sunday night, exactly one of them matches. When I saw whose it was, I nearly fell out of my chair: 2005 Spink Award winner Tracy Ringolsby, whose BBWAA badge number is 20 — a fancy way of saying that they don’t get much more venerable.

Once upon a time, at my first Winter Meetings in 2003, a few of my Baseball Prospectus colleagues and I — none of us credentialed, mind you — spent three days trying to avoid feeling starstruck while watching the swarm of baseball executives, agents, and writers milling around the lobby of the lobby of the New Orleans Marriott. Ringolsby, who had been vocal in his criticism of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball (published earlier that year), was as recognizable as anyone in the room thanks to his signature black cowboy hat and oversized belt buckle — the subject of giggles from us chipmunks. But times change; Ringolsby came around on Bert Blyleven’s Hall of Fame candidacy before most of his peers, and in recent years, he’s cited JAWS in connection to Larry Walker’s case. At the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, I found myself sitting next to him in the media room and thanked him for the Walker citation, the start of an enjoyable 20-minute conversation on Hall of Fame stuff.

Yes, Hall of Fame voting, even of the virtual variety, can make for strange bedfellows. Tracy Ringolsby covered the Messersmith-McNally decision in 1975, helped found Baseball America in 1981, and has spent four decades as a beat reporter. I haven’t done any of those things, haven’t even gotten my first official Hall vote, and yet we’ve come to the same conclusions about this year’s ballot. Our ballots may not be perfect, but this particular full-circle moment feels like a perfect one.


JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Sammy Sosa

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2013 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Like Mark McGwire, his rival in the great 1998 home run chase, Sammy Sosa was hailed at the height of his popularity as a hero, a Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, and a great international ambassador for baseball. In the same year that McGwire set a new single-season record with 70 home runs, Sosa hit 66 and took home the National League MVP award. Three times in a four-year stretch from 1998 to 2001, he surpassed Roger Maris’ previously unbreakable mark of 61 homers, and he hit more homers over a five- or 10-year stretch than any player in history. In 2007, he became just the fifth player to reach the 600-home-run milestone after Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds.

As with McGwire, the meaning of Sosa’s home runs changed once baseball began to crack down on performance-enhancing drugs, with suspicions mounting about his achievements. He was called to testify before Congress in 2005, along with McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and several other players. Sosa denied using PEDs, but while he never tested positive once Major League Baseball began instituting penalties for usage, The New York Times reported in 2009 that he was one of more than 100 players who had done so during the supposedly anonymous survey tests six years prior.

Though his case doesn’t exactly parallel with those of either McGwire or Palmeiro, Sosa received similar treatment from BBWAA voters in his 2013 ballot debut, getting just 12.5% of the vote. Since then, he’s sunk into the single digits (7.8% in 2018) suggesting he’s more likely to fall off the ballot à la Palmeiro than to persist for the full 10 years, as McGwire did. Even beyond the Hall of Fame voting, however, he’s been snubbed by the Cubs, first frozen out of the centennial anniversary of Wrigley Field in 2014, then similarly shunned amid the team’s 2016 championship run. While Bonds, Roger Clemens and others are trending towards eventual election as voters reconsider their hardline stances and their position as the morality police, it’s worth considering Sosa’s exile.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Sammy Sosa
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Sammy Sosa 58.6 43.8 51.2
Avg. HOF RF 72.7 42.9 57.8
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,408 609 .273/.344/.534 128
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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